Optimizing IPM: A more accurate measure of impact on beneficial insects in the orchard

The implementation of IPM in Europe is practised widely and has been legislatively obliged since 2015. Some of the most important underlying aspects of successful IPM however seem to have been neglected, particularly the side effects of crop protection agents on beneficial insect activity. It appears that the thresholds for side effects on beneficial activity has become less strict.  In my opinion, this has to do with the following underlying causes:

Firstly, when we talk about the side effects of crop protection agents it is not necessarily black and white. In the 80s and 90s there were either non-selective agents (pyrethroids , phosphorus esters, etc.) or selective agents (mainly IGRs ). More recently available chemistry often falls into an intermediate grey zone. This means that their side effects on important beneficials in the orchard ecosystem are underestimated. These side effects can also be further enhanced through cumulative or repeated use.

Secondly, the importance of ‘new’ beneficial species becomes more evident. Recent research underlines the importance of the parasitic wasp Aphelinus mali, the predatory mite Euseius finlandicus in apple and velvet mites, earwigs and spiders in pear.

Thirdly, phytopharmaceutical companies often focus on the side-effects on standard organisms required for product registration. There is a strong suspicion that non-GLP (Good laboratory practice) tests are being applied to select the less sensitive natural enemies for the GLP testing. In this way, the reliable and essential information regarding impacts on orchard ecosystems does not reach the sector.

The implication is that orchards being managed with an integrated approach are in fact being just as affected by chemical use than ever before and the much needed development of new chemistry does not align with the current and emerging needs of IPM.

To address this problem I started the project ‘the impact meter’ at the research centre for fruit growing, Pcfruit npo, in Belgium. The purpose of this project will be to demonstrate the effects of applying a plant protection agent on all relevant beneficials in an orchard ecosystem. A measure of impact will be developed that reflects the true effects of applying that product, and will take into account its influence on all relevant beneficial organisms in the orchard, including the time of application and product persistence. 

A database is to be created, preferably from existing data (IOBC, PPDB, EFSA, Biobest, Koppert). Maximum use will be made from field trial results. This type of testing (in comparison with laboratory tests) gives a more truthful picture of the side effects and can take sub lethal and cumulative effects into account. For natural enemies where no information on side effects exist, specific field trials will need to be performed.

An interactive web page is intended to demonstrate the impact of a product. Required information from the grower would be crop type, crop protection agent, dose and time of application. The impact meter would then give a simple indication to the grower (green, yellow, orange, red or a percentage) regarding the expected impact of the activity. The grower can see by one glance what the expected impact is of a crop protection agent on beneficial populations. This would also provide support to a grower wanting to search for alternative, less harmful products. Such a system would encourage a sound knowledge based approach to IPM, whereby maximum opportunities are given to support sustainable and more natural insect control.

It is envisaged that the digital tool can be integrated into the existing “EVA” app currently used by 20% of Belgian fruit growers for the scheduling and recording of on farm chemical intervention. The results of this study will be further communicated through the regular channels of communication: the fruit grower magazine ‘Fruit’ with 2000 subscribers; digital newsletters and pcfruit website; open days and lectures; when issuing warnings, the (cumulative) side effects of plant protection agents or spray schedules will be taken into account.

My goal for this project is to give the grower the necessary information about the products that they use, so that the best decisions will be made to support the balance between nature and agriculture. Less chemical dependence will be a natural consequence due to better informed choices about crop protection and its resulting ecological impact. We wish to create a first class image for IPM amongst Flemish fruit producers. In turn customer confidence will be increased and future commercial opportunities will develop. Fruit producers can become leaders in IPM and Flemish fruit producers can be an example for other countries!

Femke De Vis, Belgium

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